Penpont Heritage Centre

Annual Reports

To view the Group's annual information to OSCR, please click here.   You will need to enter the Charity number SC029176

President's Annual Report 2021/2022

During the above year we did not open to the public because of Covid 19 but were happy to entertain Freda Blackwood, a well known local artist, who kindly donated a bust of Tom Choate, a founder member of our group. This had been exhibited by Freda in her recent Exhibition at Gracefield in Dumfries. We also opened up to receive a Victorian blotter willed to us by Jean Maxwell, late of Thornhill, which had belonged to Joseph Thomson. These two objects were gratefully received and photographs were sent to “The Dumfries Standard”.

We continued to consult with one another by e-mail and by telephone and eventually at the Heritage Centre mainly to discuss the fabric of the building and the storage heating.

 David Harkness of Buccleuch Estates advised us as regards the pig-sty roof, the boiler housing and the fencing at the front of the house. Billy McMichael has agreed to paint one of the kitchen walls and advised us on the best paint to use on the wooden front fence until we can replace it with something more appropriate. Planning permission is not required for renewing the pig-sty roof  if it is replaced with identical work nor the front fence if it is replaced by a Victorian wrought iron one. Mark Vernon advised us on the use of the storage heating in an attempt to lower the bills. The Post Office continues to use the Thomson Room on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon from 2p.m. till 2.30p.m. and to cover the cost of electricity.  Vince Kelly of Criffel Micros agreed to assess our computer system and will discuss his findings fully with Linda.

We wrote to Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council about the possibility of reserving parking in front of Sundial Cottage when it is actually open to the public but as yet we have received no reply.

We also wrote to Drumlanrig Mains concerning the Sundial which was removed from the front garden when Mrs Carson vacated the house in 1997. We would love to see it re-installed and would be willing contribute towards the cost. We await a response to our request.

We thank Srewart McColm who has looked after the garden in recent years. He has now retired.

We thank Gladys who has agreed to continue as our Treasurer in spite of moving to Sanquhar.

We thank Linda for offering to use her computer skills on our behalf.

At our March meeting it was agreed that we should open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 2-4pm.  Volunteer guides are asked to fill in the Rota sheet.

Information arrived concerning Doors Open Days at the beginning of September `22.

We thank Marlene, Sandy and Muriel who volunteer their services when required. Thanks also to all the Committee members for faithfully attending our meetings and to Alison, our chairperson for producing the minutes.

We continue to express our gratitude to Richard, Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, for the use of Sundial Cottage at a nominal rent.

President and Secretary,

Sophia Harkness M.B.E.  F.R.S.G.S.


Chairperson's Report   -  2016/2017

This year has proved to be as busy as last with the main focus being on a return visit by Ezekiel, the Maasai Elder, whose first visit was last year. His first meeting with the Thomson family was so successful that, with the support of the Joseph Thomson Group, it was decided to set up a Thomson/Maasai Trust to explore the possibility of helping young people take part in an annual walk following in the footsteps of Joseph Thomson as he led his 1883 expedition through Maasai Land. The 75 mile stretch was chosen as it passed through the village of Ezekiel who returned to Britain to attend the launch of the Trust in Penpont Church in October 2016.

Ezekiel spoke about his wish for closer ties with Thomson's birthplace which he hoped would be promoted by this annual walk by a group from Britain supported and accompanied by a group of Maasai. Two great grand nephews, John Hastings-Thomson and Peter Wright MBE, spoke at the launch in full support of the project. After a short musical programme the launch ended with a Burns' song "A Man's a Man for A' That", sung by the well known William Willamson, yet another descendant of the explorer. The Trust will continue to meet at the Thomson house about 4 times a year and is well on track to see the first trek in 2018 organised by the Thomson Trust liaising with the Olakira le Maa Trust. 

On this second visit Ezekiel agai n went into the local schools and toured two contrasting farms. BBC Scotland were there to record this visit for their news programme. He also paid memorable visits to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the headquarters of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Perth, where he secured publicity support and where he saw Sophia receive the Fellowship of the RSGS on behalf of the Joseph Thomson committee. This was in recognition of their sterling efforts to commemorate the life of the famous explorer.

By coincidence, a group of Maasai (Osiligi) dancers on a tour of Scotland were booked by Joan Neilson to perform in Thornhill church in October 2016. This was possible through local Communitity Councils and D & G Council who gave a hospitality grant enabling us to provide lunch in the Thomson House between visits to the local schools and the evening performance which was well received by a large audience. Videos were made available to the participants and copies were sent to the Osiligi Warriors in Kenya. We were pleased that Provost Thomson came to the performance.

Three of our members went to Edinburgh where Hamish Brown MBE, traveller and writer, gave an interesting talk on Thomson's travels in Morocco. This lecture was arranged by the Joseph Thomson  Maasai Trust. We are proud to support Maureen as the Trust's new treasurer and Gladys as a trustee with close ties to the Thomson family.

Last summer we arranged a History walk around Penpont starting with a presentation in the church and finishing with refreshments at the Heritage Centre. We hope to arrange similar walks soon round the three villages as well as organising Thomson Tours using the Thornhill and District community bus.

We wer pleased to hear from Fiona Armstrong, Lord Lieutenant, who figures largely in the Border Life TV programme, requesting us to make a contribution to a piece about Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the inventor of the first pedal bicycle near Keir in 1840. After visiting us at the centre in Penpont, she proceeded to Keir churchyard to interview yet another Thomson descendant, Robin Thomson, beside the McMillan headstone. Again we were grateful for the publicity and look forward to co-operating in an ITV programme about Thomson.

David Dewar, playwright, contacted us about the possibility of writing a musical play about Thomson which he hoped to stage as part of the Dumfries Arts Festival. We were delighted to offer our support and look forward to the performance in Penpont Church on 1st June at which we will serve refreshments.

At Penpont church and in Keir Hall there was a rededication of Rolls of Honour naming those who fought in WW1. Gladys, our archivist, arranged to have that of Virginhall and Keir refurbished and framed, the expense borne by Keir and Penpont Community Councils and the Church. At Keir Hall there was an exhibition of materials from local families augmented by a presentation of Keir history fromm the Heritage Centre. Gladys, last week, attended a House of Lords reception to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the War Memorials Trust following the tremendous contribution she has made in researching local war graves and compiling books on local War Memorials. These are available at the Centre. We are please to tock Neil McKay's book, "McKay Penpont", about the life and times of his father, a well known local businessman and benefactor. Neil had the honour of delivering a eulogy at the funeral of Stanley Grierson, son of William Grierson, grocers in Penpont for generations. Stanley had donated writings and artefacts to the Heritage Centre before the opening and had given Neil a Penpont water pump to place where he thought fit. Neil would like to put it in the Thomson garden. The weather cock (from the Church) is ready to be erested also.

We appreciate the generosity of past residents including Jean Morrison, daughter of Ian and district nurse Moira, who was in touch after finding us on our website. The Saturday teas and Ellas Halliday, a descendant, have donated generously to a fund set aside to install a Victorian fireplace in the village room. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our friends and supporters who enable us, not only to cover our costs, but to enjoy showing our cottage and archives to appreciative visitors.

In January we were asked to accommodate students from Glasgow University (Crichton Campus) as part of a project on David Livingstone and his contemporaries. We hired the village hall in which to give a presentation on Thomson, provided refreshments there and, in groups, showed them the interesting aspects of the cottage. Their visit was short but it provied to us that we are able to deal with large groups.

Sandy Hall, who did so  much work in the refurbishment of the John Ross gravestone alerted us to the fact that a Tynron soldier, who fought in the First World War was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917. However, we have learned that D & G Council had plans in hand for November so we are hoping to stage an exhibition to coincide with this as we are proud to represent all three parishes.

It is good to see the rose gifted by JIm Hyslop, in memory or his mother, flourishing on the front wall of Sundial Cottage as well as the plants added to the rockery by Stewart McColm, who also cut the boundary hedges. Kenneth Anderson has been our faithful grass cutter again and thanks are to them and all those who have helped us during the past year.

We would also like to make special mention of Muriel Durie, Marlene Marshall and Helen White who have retired from the day to day running of the Centre but who will help when the need arises. We also thank Joan Neilson who has recently moved away to Stirling. Sadly she has since been ill and we wish her a speedy recovery. Hugh Buck and Mike Renwick, as guides are welcome additions to our work force. Hugh spent several years as a vet in Kenya and Mike has explored the region around Thomson's Falls. Recently we had a visit from Niles Helmbolt at whose expense handyman Karl did amazing work to help prepare the house. Niles has created the web site "Go Africa" and invites us to use it free of charge.

This year we hope to concentrate on building up a store of photos and information about our local families which will be arranged in alphabetical order and be access from the new bookcases. The books will be clearly marked on the spine. We look forward to contributions from the families to go alongside those which he have already in our archives. We also plan to buy an additional display cabinet in which to rotate artefacts of interest.

Wesare pleased to be invited to give presentatiions to outside organisations such as Church Guilds, Probus Clubs and Heritage Societies who make us most welcome. 

As chairperson, I want to thank everyone who has made any kind of contribution whatsoever towards the maintenance and imoprovement of the Joseph Thomson Local Heritage Centre thus ensuring that it will continue to be a great asset to Penpont, Keir and Tynron.

Sophia Harkness


Report presented to the Annual General Meeting

22 May 2017





We have had a busy year in spite of the fact that our Saturday visitor numbers were down. However, we did have extra meetings in connection with the newly formed Penpont, Keir and Tynron Development Trust, set up to ensure that windfarm money is put to best use for the three parishes.

            It was agreed that the Joseph Thomson Group would provide office space and facilities for a Development Officer to work in the building for around 17 months where Bobby has been since November ’18. Donations from the PKT Dev. Trust are paid monthly to cover our costs.

            It was also agreed that we accommodate Penpont Post Office from 2pm-4pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays to maintain a service for those unable to travel easily to Thornhill. Again, a donation is made to cover the extra heating costs.

            The Thomson/ Maasai Trust continue to use our premises four times a year for meetings.

During the year we have been involved in events to ensure that our aims are being met.

            Here we must pay tribute to Hugh Buck, our secretary, who sadly passed away suddenly while abroad. Our thoughts are with Carolyn and family as we express our appreciation for all he achieved in the short time he was with us. Hugh and Carolyn had spent some time in Kenya as young vets 50 years ago only 80 years after Thomson’s expedition there.

            A talk was arranged in The Gladstone Hall at which Hugh gave a most interesting presentation followed by refreshments. He also arranged more recently a talk on Alexander Anderson, The Surfaceman’s Poet, delivered by Flora Burns, a retired history teacher, heavily involved in a new book of his works. Anderson was a friend of Thomson during his Edinburgh days.

            Tynron planned a display on “Tynron Then and Now” which took place in Tynron Hall and Linda, one of our committee, was able to supply photos, documents and DVDs to augment the contributions of local residents. Teas were provided and our Heritage Centre benefited from money raised.

            On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Thomas Tosh, a popular Thornhill business, it was appropriate to set up a display of the works of Joseph Laing Waugh, who was born 150 years in Thornhill. Thomas Tosh is a character in one of Waugh’s books about local worthies. Gladys provided some information and exhibits for which we again received a generous donation.

            Penpont Parish Church also celebrated its 150th anniversary which began with a history evening consisting of a talk on local covenanting times, by Professor Ted Cowan, followed by a presentation on the history of Penpont’s Five Churches by Sophia Harkness, from materials to be found in our archives.

            In November the Joseph Thomson Group were pleased to help the Penpont Community Council and School to celebrate the end of the 1st World War in 1918.

            Again, Gladys was pleased to supply information about the 41 names on the War Memorial including a brief background of each soldier read out by the children and members of the community.

            In August a village walk was led by Sophia. The participants enjoyed this and the afternoon tea which followed.

            We were pleased to welcome a bus load of students from the Dumfries campus of the University of the West of Scotland in March. AS we had done previously, the students were given refreshments on arrival at the village hall where they listened to a presentation on the life and explorations of Joseph Thomson, as an extension to a project on East Africa. They were then divided into four groups before proceeding to his birthplace. There the groups rotated, spending 15 minutes in each of the four spaces to learn about he house and village in Victorian Times. Again, we received a donation ensuring that the fabric of the building is kept in good order.

            Maureen, our treasurer, oversaw the coating of the gable wall to exclude damp, the plumber dealt with a drainage problem, and Hugh and his son painted the boiler housing and the outside wall of the washhouse. Sophia’s grandchildren painted the front fence and John McKay sandpapered the bench as part of his Duke of Edinburgh’s award. The beech hedge was trimmed by Michael Kneeshaw and the grass is being cut by Stewart McColm who receives a donation to cover his expenses. He has planted two lilac trees in memory of Flora, the housekeeper of Niles Heimbolt. Niles and his handyman, Karl, had donated much work and money to help establish the Centre.

            Allen Thomson, a descendant now living in Holland has donated, to the Trust, two Moroccan daggers and a telescope used by Thomson on his travels. The Trust has agreed that we may display them in a secure cabinet.

            The Thomson family tree which Gladys has complied over 20 years has now been officially handed over to the Thomson/ Maasai Trust. Any queries should now be directed there. Three of committee are members and are pleased to support Thomson’s descendants in their efforts to provide support for the education of Kenyan girls.

            We continue to add to our archives with photos, articles on local residents and filmed interviews. It is good to have recording of Gala days and this year we had the opening of a new play park. Speakers at the Thornhill Heritage Society and those concerned are given copies of the DVDs.

            The Heritage Centre was open on Saturdays from 2-4pm and by special request. We appreciate the involvement of Sandy, who comes from Moniave to give visitors the benefit of his knowledge of the Penpont Volunteers, of John Ross, who fought at Waterloo and of Lt. Samuel Wallace who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the 1st World Wat. Morag Murray has helped us by lending an assortment of irons and washhouse equipment, agreeing to come along to demonstrate their use to visitors.

            Our thanks must go to Maureen, our treasurer, who goes above and beyond in looking after our finances and liaising with the other organisations who are connected to our Heritage Centre. Margaret, as always, has been an efficient caterer.

            Allison, our chairperson for the past year, would like to thank present members of the committee for their hard work, also past members Muriel and Marlene for extra support.

New members would be most welcome.




                        Sophia R. Harkness MBE FRSGS    President.







The highlight of the past year for Penpont, Keir and Tynron Heritage was the illustrated talk by Ingval Maxwell OBE FRIBA FRIAS C AAB CFSAScot.

Ingval was born in Penpont, a grandson of Lt. Col. Morrison, and spent his childhood

In the village. He went on to study architecture at Edinburgh University and during a distinguished career was appointed International Consultant in Architectural


We were therefore very happy when he agreed to deliver two excellent presentations last May, comprehensively covering the history of Penpont and its hinterland.

These illustrated talks attracted capacity audiences on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon of the 5th and 6th of May in Penpont School Hall which were hosted by FRIThe Joseph Thomson Group and Neil McKay, a local historian, who arranged to have the talk streamed for the benefit of those unable to attend. It was also filmed by the Heritage Group and will be available at the Heritage Centre. On both occasions  generous donations were made towards Prostate Cancer Research and Penpont, Keir and Tynron Heritage.                                                                                                            

Ingval has since had his presentations printed in book form and this can be referred to at the Heritage Centre. He has very kindly offered to return with additional information but this visit has had to be postponed due to Covid 19.

An evening presentation by Morris Service, a cousin of Ingval, gave us the benefit of his local knowledge of The Marr Burn and its journey to the Nith. We were most grateful to Morris, and the Heritage Centre again benefited from audience donations.

In December we were pleased to host a visit from well known writer and broadcaster Nicholas Rankine who is currently writing a book on Kenya in which he makes reference to Joseph Thomson.


At our A G M in 2019 we expressed our great sadness at the sudden loss of

Hugh Buck, our very able Secretary, who died suddenly last spring . Maureen Halkett, our Treasurer, has resigned to take up the Chairmanship of The Penpont, Keir and Tynron Development Trust who are working to improve the amenities of the three parishes. We thank her for the benefit of her community experience.

We are grateful to Alison Foggie, our Chairperson and Minute Secretary, for her  

diligence also to Gladys Cuttle, who agreed to be treasurer, a job which she has done faithfully in past years.We offer her our sincere condolences on the loss of her husband David, a faithful member and helper, and gratefully accept a legacy which helps us to upkeep our Heritage Centre.

After some years Sandy Hall has retired from committee work and we acknowledge

his considerable contribution to military aspects of our Heritage. He has offered his help during future planned projects. We also remain grateful to Muriel Durie and Marlene Marshall for their help on special occasions.


We have been joined by JoAnne McKay and son John, as committee members, and are grateful to John for his guidance in coping with IT.

We continued to open on Saturday afternoons throughout last summer season but

regret that due to Covid19 we will not be open for the 2020 season as the Thomson Cottage is too small to observe Social Distancing satisfactorily.

Last September we participated in Doors Open days and were very pleased with the response.

This  September we hope to join in with our own on-line presentation, ably assisted  by John and Luke McKay.

Meantime we continue to add local photographs, documents, artefacts and film of presentations given at Thornhill Heritage and interviews given by local residents past and present. Presentations were made at Wallace Hall Academy and Penpont Friendship Club.


 We take this opportunity to thank

LindaMcDonald and Margaret Dempster who represent Tynron and Keir respectively

and all our volunteers for their valuable contributions throughout the year.


Once more we wish  to voice our appreciation to Richard, Duke of Buccleuch, for his generosity in continuing to lease to us the Thomson birthplace at a nominal rent.



 Sophia Harkness MBE FRSGS









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